Ribbonfarm at the Crossroads

Talk about a recession. Ribbonfarm is off to a very slow start in 2009, going by posting frequency. Between January 1 and May 5, I wrote a total of just 15 posts. Or less than a post a week. In 2008, I was posting twice as frequently, with 80 posts, or about 1.5 posts a week. The last couple of weeks were the slowest. Thanks to a hectic and messy apartment move, I posted nothing for 2 weeks, the longest break I’ve taken since I started in July 2007. There’s a mystery behind this slowdown that I’ll share, which I solved by looking at some numbers. The answer revealed some uncomfortable truths about my blogging. This led me to realize that a change has gradually been creeping up on this blog and that I have to make some key decisions soon, most of them rather unpleasant for me to even consider. I have an idea of where I want to go next, and I expect a few of you might have some thoughts to add. More on the ‘whither ribbonfarm?’ questions later. First, an overdue roundup.

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Neatness, Organization and Unsociability

Since it’s been more than week since my last post, I thought I’d do a quick meta-post for those of you who don’t follow my off-ribbonfarm blogging gigs. The next original ribbonfarm post will have to wait till next week, since I am in the middle of a rather hectic trip. So here are two selections that seem to have sparked interest.

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Six Personal Favorites for 2008

Yesterday I got this gentle complaint from a friend and reader, “It’s great that your cloudworker stuff is getting picked up. I’m afraid it may tear you away from your non-business interests though, and we won’t get to hear any more parrot stories out of you.”

This seems to be a recurrent theme in the feedback and criticism I get about my writing. People who like my more introspective pieces seem dismayed that I also write more sociable pieces that belong in broader business/technology/culture conversations. There have even been suggestions that my more sociable pieces are corrupting my otherwise pure and childlike soul. At any rate, I guess it is no accident that my own personal favorites from 2008 lean towards the introspective side, so if this stuff is my soul, I think it will endure at least for another year. Check out the full roundup for 2008, if you don’t like my own picks.

  1. The Blue Tunnel: the second Ribbonfarm experiment in the graphic novel form, this time more like a picture-book story in the Dr. Seuss “Oh the places you will go” vein.
  2. The Bloody-Minded Pleasures of Engineering: A tip-of-the-hat to Samuel Florman’s The Existential Pleasures of Engineering, comprising my own meandering thoughts on what it means to be an engineer.
  3. Bargaining with your Right Brain: an attempt at an unorthodox look at bargaining as collaborative-adversarial storytelling.
  4. Creative Destruction: Portrait of an Idea: we take a look at the concepts and history of the notion of creative destruction, from ancient times to Schumpeter.
  5. Towards a Philosophy of Destruction: Following up on my creative destruction post, this took a discursive look at destruction, all by itself.
  6. A look at Amy Lin’s wonderful dot art, and the trains of thought it sparked for me.

I promise I won’t sell my soul in 2009; at least not for under $10 million.

Happy New Year!


Complete 2008 Roundup

This entry is part 2 of 15 in the series Annual Roundups

I wrote 80 articles in 2008, and this post contains an annotated list of links to all of them.  Ribbonfarm.com still doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. Here is a picture of how my focus has shifted, drifted and meandered since I started in July 2007 (here’s the 2007 omnibus review). Red arrows point to the blog’s ‘soul’ at various points. Yellow ‘scope’ wedges show the changing ADD levels. [Read more…]

Serious Games for Serious Business

This is a guest post by Marigo Raftapoulus

Gaming technology, interactive media, digital entertainment and knowledge industries are converging to create new forms of learning. Learning 2.0, in the form of ‘serious games,’ allows people to learn new skills and experiment with different strategies in ‘safe-fail’ environments. Serious games build in safe-fail experimentation based on the premise that through failure we learn more about the problem that we want to solve through adaptive learning. In contrast, ‘fail-safe’ environments tend to stifle experimentation and innovation through an ensuing ‘fear of failure’ culture that tends to develop in such environments.

So what does a serious game look like? Check out this demo for a game designed to train emergency response paramedics in case of a terrorist attack (warning! Scenes are bloody).

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The Corporate College and Other Election 3.0 Ideas

I rarely react to the news on ribbonfarm, since I prefer to focus on relatively long-term stuff. But tomorrow’s election is historic in too many ways to not comment on.  This is definitely an Election 2.0; everything from the public user-generated (and Tina Fey generated) construction of Sarah Palin’s persona, to Obama’s use of mobile phones, says that something fundamental is changing in the age-old social technology of the election. So much so, that the structural revolutions are almost overshadowing the cultural ones (a black candidate and two prominent women in the race). But 2008 is the beginning of a long-term period of evolution in the infrastructure of participatory governance, not an end point. In search of some new thoughts on elections, I came up with the following set of (possibly hare-brained) ideas on how elections can, and should, change, from the Election 2.0 model of today, to the Election 3.0 model of the future.

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My First Book, A Board Game and ‘Cloudworker’ on the NYT

It’s been a busy week here at ribbonfarm, and it’s ending with a bang. Two news items — my first book project, and a board game — that should interest you, if you’ve been following the evolution of the site. Both were mentioned today in a piece about ribbonfarm by Marci Alboher, in the NY Times Shifting Careers blog. Marci also mentioned my concept of cloudworker, which still needs your votes to displace ‘telecommuter’ in the Plantronics contest. Please go vote for ‘cloudworker’ (once a day until Nov 7), but first read about my book and board game projects.

And to NY Times readers coming to ribbonfarm.com for the first time, welcome! Since Marci writes about work-life issues, I assume that theme interests you. So check out my work-life category, which has plenty of juicy articles on the topic. I hope you like what you read, and decide to subscribe to my RSS feed.

Let’s start with the book.

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Vote for ‘Cloudworker’ Among Plantronics Contest Finalists!

Dear readers:

For the first time, I am asking a specific favor of you. My contribution, ‘cloudworker’, to the Plantronics contest to invent a new term for ‘telecommuter’ has made it to the top 10 finalists list from over 500 entries. The winner will be chosen by popular vote at: www.plantronics.com/telewho

You can vote once a day between Oct 30 and Nov 7. I honestly do think ‘cloudworker’ is the best of the lot.

My request, please bookmark the link above and vote as many of the days over the next week as you can, and please email your contacts/post this to facebook etc. to get me some word-of-mouth votes

Here is some boilerplate text you can use in your emails/re-blogs/Facebook profiles etc.

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Towards a Philosophy of Destruction

Somewhere in the back of our minds, we know that creation and growth must be accompanied by destruction and decline. We pay lip service to this essential dichotomy, or attempt to avoid it altogether, by using false-synthesis weasel words like renewal. I too have been guilty of this, as in this romanticized treatment of creative destruction (though I think that was a fine piece overall). Though I define innovation as “creative destruction” in the sense of Schumpeter, most of the time I spend thinking about this subject is devoted to creativity and growth. The reasons for this asymmetry are not hard to find. Destruction is often associated (and conflated) with evil. More troubling — it is often associated with pain, even if there is no evil intent involved. Finally, destruction — let’s loosely define it as any entropy-increasing process — is also more likely to happen naturally. It therefore requires less deliberate attention, and is easier to deny and ignore. Still, the subject of destruction does deserve, say, at least 1/5 the attention that creation commands. A thoughtful philosophy of destruction is essential to a rich life, at the very least because each of us must grapple with his/her own mortality. So here is a quick introduction to non-evil destruction, within the context of business and innovation. Before we begin, lodge this prototypical example of creative destruction, the game of Jenga, in your mind:

Jenga (Wikimedia Commons)

Jenga (Wikimedia Commons)

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Happy First Birthday, Ribbonfarm

Recently I took my usual mile-long walk to my neighborhood Starbucks, in suburban Rochester, something I often do when I need a physical rhythm to help tame runaway thoughts. I sat on the patio, sipping my drink, watching the sun set behind Bill Gray’s restaurant. Cars and Harley Davidsons (upstate New York is biker country) occasionally rumbled by. At some point, the scene quietly turned magical and surreal. The buzz of the other coffee drinkers’ conversations faded. The sunset acquired a sudden stillness. I took a picture with my cellphone.

Hard Road

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